The state structure in French-ruled Vietnam (1858-1945)
After fully establishing their rule over Vietnam, the French colonialists divided the country (which they called An Nam then) into three regions with three totally different political status "Bac ky" (Tokin), "Trung ky" (Central Vietnam)  and "Nam ky" (Cochinchina).

By Pham Diem

After fully establishing their rule over Vietnam, the French colonialists divided the country (which they called An Nam then) into three regions with three totally different political status:

- "Bac ky" (Tokin) was considered by the French a semi-colonial protectorate (excluding Hanoi and Haiphong Cities as colonial territories).

- "TRung ky" (Central Vietnam) was consodered a protectorate (excluding Da Nang city as a colonial territory, stretching from Thanh Hoa to Binh Thuan province).

- "Nam ky" (Cochinchina) was the colonial territory embracing all southern provinces.

Meanwhile, they also maintained the feudal regime of the Nguyen dynasty as their stooge. So, though different in political status, the three regions were in fact under the same socio-political system, i.e. the semi-feudal colonial regime.

All such things governed the organizational structure of the French's ruling apparatus in Vietnam.

With the French President's October 17, 1887 Order on the establishment of the Indochinese Federation comprising Vietnam and Cambodia and April 19, 1889 Order on including Laos into the Indochinese Federation, the governor-generalship was established, putting a finishing touch to the French colonialists' administrative system in Vietnam, which lasted until August 1945 when it was smashed by the Vietnamese revolution.

1.- "Toan quyen Dong Duong" (The Indochinese Governor General): He was the top French official in Indochina, appointed by the French President and subject to the supervision and direction of the French Minister for Colonies. The Indochinese Governor General was "authorized to exercise the French Republic's powers in Indochina", who represented and took responsibility before the French State for all affairs - political, military, civil, economic, financial, legal and diplomatic- in Indochina.

To perform such role and functions, the Governor General was entrusted with many powers:

- The supreme ruling power in Indochina. He was the one who organized the government offices in Indochina and defined their functions and powers. Officials heading the federal agencies were all placed under the direct control of the Governor General.

- The power to promulgate decrees of legislative and executive characters in Indochina.

- Being also in charge of the military affairs, he had the power to set up army corps, deploy the military forces, issue conscription order..., but did not directly command battles and military campaigns.

- To supervise and direct the French judicial system in Indochina.

The Governor General was assisted by a system of agencies functioning only as consultants to help him perform his role and exercise his powers. Among them, the Indochinese Supreme Council with the Governor General as its chairman was the highest consulting body in charge of general affairs, which was later renamed as the Indochinese Government Council.

The Indochinese Defense Council, also with the Governor General as its chairman, advised him on military affairs including the organization of the army, the protection of colonies.

Besides, there existed other consulting bodies such as the Mine Consultancy Committee, the Indochinese Education Consultancy Council, the Supreme Council for Exploitation of Colonies, the Indochinese Economic and Financial Interests Assembly, etc.

Placed under the direct control of the Indochinese Governor General were Vietnam's three regions with three different forms of administration.

2.- "Thong su Bac Ky" (Tonkin Resident Superior):

He was the top French ruler of Northern Vietnam, who was appointed by the French President and placed under the direction of the Indochinese Governor General. He directed the entire French ruling apparatus in the region, controlled and supervised local mandarins of the Nguyen royal court.

The "Thong su Bac Ky" (Tokin Resident Superior) was assisted by various agencies such as the Tonkin Resident, Superior's Office, the Tokin Protectorate Council, the Tokin Chamber of Commerce, the Tonkin Chamber of Agriculture, the House of People's Representatives which was not an elective body, composed of elites of the Vietnamese society, only provided consultancy on taxation and had no right to discuss politics.

Each northern province was headed by "Cong Su", a French Resident Minister, who was also assisted by various agencies such as the Resident Minister's Office, the Provincial Council, etc.

Northern Vietnam was semi-colonial protectorate where the French administration was set up at the provincial level.

3.- "Kham su Trung Ky" (French Resident Superior in Central Vietnam): The French's ruling apparatus in Central Vietnam was headed by "Kham Su" (Resident Superior) whose assisting agencies had similar roles and powers as those of "Thong Su Bac Ky" (Tonkin Resident Superior). Besides, Central Vietnam was "protectorate" where the capital city of the Nguyen dynasty was located, "Kham Su Trung Ky" was also entrusted with the role and power to direct and supervise Nguyen kings and the royal court. He had the right to approve the king's decrees before they were promulgated.

Under "Kham Su" (the Resident Superior) were "Cong Su" (French Resident Ministers) who administered provinces, with roles and power similar to those of "Cong Su" (Resident Ministers) in Northern Vietnam.

Central Vietnam was also a "protectorate" where the French administration was set up at the provincial level like in Northern Vietnam.

4.- "Thong doc Nam Ky" (Governor of Cochichina)

He was also a French official who had the same role, power and assisting agencies as "Thong Su" and "Kham Su" (Resident Superiors) in northern and Central Vietnam.

Yet, in Cochinchina, a colonial territory, there existed no House of People's Representative and no feudal regime of the Nguyen dynasty while the French colonialists' administration was set up at all levels: provincial, district and communal.

A province was headed by a French official titled "chu tinh" or "tinh truong" (the provincial chief) whose role and powers were similar to those of "cong su" (Resident Ministers) in Tokin and Central Vietnam. The province was divided into small administrative units called "tong" (similar to district) which was subdivided into "xa" (commune). "Chanh tong" (the district chief) and "huong ca" (the commune chief) were Vietnamese officials paid by the French.

5.- The puppet feudal regime of the Nguyen dynasty:

The Nguyen feudal regime only existed nominally in northern and Central Vietnam which were considered semi-protectorate and protectorate. In fact, it was only a part of the ruling apparatus and the stooge of the French colonialists.

Basically, the feudal regime was structured after the model of the Nguyen royal court before the French conquest. The king was assisted by:

- "Tu tru trieu dinh" (four pillars of the Hue court) with four top-ranking mandarins acting as advisers to the king. In cases where the king was a minor or absent, these mandarins became regents; hence "Tu tru trieu dinh" was called "Hoi dong phu chinh" (The Regents' Council).

- "Thuong thu" (miniters). When they met under the chairmanship of the king, their group was called "Vien Co Mat" (Security Council); if their meeting was chaired by the French Resident Superior, their group was then called "Hoi dong thuong thu" (The Council of Ministers).

- Six ministries: "Le" (protocol, ceremony), "Lai" (personnel, organization), "Hinh" (Justice), "Binh" (Defense), "Cong" (public facilities), and "Ho" (marriage, family, land property).

- Some other assisting agencies such as "Do sat vien" (Board of Censorship), "Phu ton nhan", etc.

Each province was headed by "Tong doc" (provincial governor) who was in charge of all affairs; "Bo chanh", a provincial mandarin in charge of tax and financial matter; and "An sat", also a feudal provincial mandarin in charge of legal matters, particularly the trials.

A province was divided into "phu" (big district), "huyen" (delta district) or "dao" (mountain district), which were equal administrative units. A district was headed by "tri phu", "tri huyen" or "quan dao".

The commune was the lowest administrative unit headed by an official called "ly truong".

The organizational structure of the French-ruled administration in Vietnam can be summarized in the following chard:

"Toan Quyen Dong Duong" Indochinese Governor General

"Thong Su Bac Ky" "Kham Su Trung Ky" "Thong Doc Nam Ky"

(Tonkin Resident Superior) (Central V.N. Resident Superior) (Governor of Cochinchina)

Nguyen Kings

"Cong Su" "Tong Doc" "Tong Doc" "Cong Su tinh" "Chu tinh"

(Provincial resident Minister) (Provincial Governor) (Provincial Governor) (Provincial Resident Minister) (Provincial Chief)

"Tri huyen" "Tri huyen" "Chanh tong"

(District Chief) (District Chief) (District Chief)

"Ly truong" "Ly truong" "Huong ca"

(Commune Chief) (Commune Chief) (Commune Chief)

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